Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said EU chiefs were open to exploring “flexibilities” but only if Downing Street publishes its plan to implement the protocol to avoid a hard border. He said if the UK delivers a clear road map setting out how it will implement the border plan then the bloc would be more willing to offer concessions. Mr Coveney tonight met with Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, who is now responsible for Brexit, to discuss the Brexit divorce deal’s so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Irishman told RTE: “I think certainly the EU side wants to get a process underway again so that both sides are talking to each other.
“There has been some back and forth this week between the two sides so far, which is good but I think from an EU perspective, what really they’re asking for now is clarity around a road map, to deliver what has been committed to by the British side.”
Talks over the protocol recently blew up after Downing Street announced plans to unilaterally scrap EU red tape for Northern Ireland.
No10 argued that the move was needed to protect supermarket supply chains and prevent a food shortage in the region.
But Brussels moved to sue Britain, insisting the Government was in breach of the Brexit deal it agreed to in 2019.
Mr Coveney suggested it could drop a number of complaints if the UK could provide detailed plans for the completion of permanent border posts at Belfast and Larne ports and provide EU member states with access to customs databases.
“These are things that are essential for the protocol to function, and I think if there is clarity around that road map of delivery, then obviously the UK have asks as well, in terms of flexibilities, extensions of grace periods and so on, which the EU will look at,” he said.
“I think everybody wants to try to resolve these issues through dialogue and discussion, as opposed to legal action and standoffs, which has unfortunately been where we’ve been for the last number of days.
“Both sides are now working on trying to understand clearly what’s required to get the protocol back on an even keel where both sides can be working in partnership with each other rather than trying to outmanoeuvre each other, or certainly moving away from unilateral actions.”
Mr Coveney said Mr Sefocvic was being pushed by member states to take a “firm position” on the UK’s plans to unilateral extend grace periods from Brussels red tape.
He said the Slovak diplomat would be “open to looking at more flexibility and more pragmatism in terms of some of the difficult elements of the protocol” if Britain publishes its implementation road map for the border plan.
To keep the Irish border open, Northern Ireland effectively remains part of the EU’s single market and checks are now made on some products arriving from the rest of the UK.
Both sides previously agreed to a three-month grace period from new controls to give time to adjust.
Downing Street is unilaterally extending the exemptions from the end of the month until October 1.
British officials insisted the move was simply to stop supermarkets in the region from running bare as they come to terms with new paperwork.
Insiders say their actions were needed because eurocrats had dragged their feet in recent talks over possible exemptions from red tape for Northern Ireland.
Government lawyers have told ministers they have done nothing wrong and say Brussels is over-reacting by taking legal action.